Two big pieces of news coming out of the ND basketball offices this week, so let’s jump to it. It’s always a good time to talk a little ND basketball.
1) First, the Big East has released all of the conference schedules for the upcoming season, so let’s take a peek at ND’s conference schedule.
Home: Cincy, UConn, USF, DePaul, Pitt, Providence, St. John's, Syracuse, WVU
Away: Cincy, UConn, USF, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Villanova
The two-fer games are going to be against Cincinnati, UConn, and South Florida. Not really a bad draw right there with two games against USF and two games against a flaky Cincinnati team. UConn will be tough of course, but this two-fer setup is much more favorable than last year’s schedule with Connecticut, Louisville, and St. Johns. We went from hoping to get a split of those 6 games (I believe we went 2-4 against those three) to realistically hoping to win at least 4 out of 6 this year. That two game swing could be enough to put this team in the NCAAs.
As for the rest of the conference schedule, the home schedule looks very manageable. I don’t look at any of these home games as unwinnable. Pitt is down, Syracuse is down, and there are several teams on there that are dregs. UConn and WVU will be tough games, but there is no reason this team can’t win AT LEAST 7 games at home in league play with a distinct possibility that we’ll win all of these games.
Think about this home schedule compared to what we faced last year. We played UConn at home last year when they were #1, Marquette when they were undefeated at the time and ranked in the top 10, Louisville when they were a top 5 team, and Villanova when they were peaking down the stretch. Last year’s home schedule was brutal.
The road schedule does look difficult though. Georgetown is going to be much better next year, UConn is still loaded, Freedom Hall is always a brutal place to play, Marquette has always been tough at home, and Villanova looks like the class of the conference in 2009. That’s five games that are going to be awfully tough to win. Plus, Cincy could be tougher next year, and you never know about those road games at Seton Hall and Rutgers.
When you look at that road schedule, we're going to have to scrape and claw just to get 4-5 wins. It would not shock me if we go like 3-6 on the road in the league next year. Heck, we went 2-7 on the road last year.
All in all, the schedule is pretty manageable in league play, and it sounds like we are going to have a very soft nonconference schedule. On paper, this team can easily win 10-11 games in the league (if not more), win 20+ games, and go back to the NCAA Tournament. Guess we'll see how it plays out.
2) The other big announcement this week involved a reshuffling of the ND coaching staff with Sean Kearney taking the head coaching position at Holy Cross and Martin Inglesby sliding into a full time assistant position.
I’m sort of conflicted on this announcement. On the one hand, I don’t have a problem at all with adding Martin Inglesby to the ND coaching staff. I’ve heard some great things about him as a coach and as a recruiter. He’s a young guy, a class act in every way, and he’s an alum who had a very good career at ND. Brey coached Inglesby and hired him as Director of Basketball Operations, so it's safe to say that Brey knows what Inglesby can bring to the table.
If he is really an up and comer in the world of coaching, I think it’s a good thing to have a little coaching tree of ND people. Look at how many assistants Coach K has trained over the years. It enhances the reputation of your program. For all we know, Martin Inglesby will put in 4-5 years at ND, move on to become a head coach at a small school (LaSalle?), move up the ladder, and someday put himself in position to be a candidate for the head coaching job at ND.
The trouble here for me is that the Inglesby hire sends a message to the fanbase that Brey really didn’t feel much pressure in the offseason to shake things up in the coaching staff. Hiring Inglesby is an act of embracing the status quo. Nothing against Inglesby, but I was hoping Brey would really go out and find a top assistant as his bench coach. I thought we were going to go out and get a Gene Cross to really ride this team going into 2009.
I like having Inglesby on the staff as an up and comer, but it just feels like nothing has changed from last year. Inglesby is not going to be the kinda guy to shake up the program in his very first year as an assistant coach. Maybe he’ll help with recruiting down the road, but that might not reap any benefits for a few years. This program needed a jolt in 2009 and didn’t really get it.
It feels like there is a disconnect between Brey’s perception of his program and the fans’ perception of the program. The fans think Brey is hanging by a string, and Brey seems to be acting like he’s got lifetime tenure to do whatever he wants. Where is the sense of urgency?? We’re coming off a terrible year where we missed the NCAA Tournament with a preseason top 10 team, and Brey basically made the decision to stand pat.
Believe it or not, Brey is about to head into his 10th season this year. At some point, you are what you are. Mike Brey is a good coach, but he seems content with where the program is today. A middle of the pack Big East program. He really doesn’t seem to have any desire to shake things up or make a big push in recruiting to try to take this program to another level. Say what you want about Charlie Weis, but at least he has gone out and tried to bring in the best assistants he could get. Weis recruits like a guy who wants to bring a championship to Notre Dame. He might not be a great coach, but I think his goals are extremely high (as they should be). Brey runs this program like he’d be happy to go 9-9 in the Big East and bow out in the 1st round of the NCAA.
I have been a Brey supporter for many years and have been patient with his efforts to build the program, but at some point you want to see more results. The bottom line is that our basketball program has not been able to make any sort of consistent push toward the front of the Big East. Brey has coached 5 NCAA teams, 4 NIT teams, and has been to one Sweet 16 in nine years. Plus, we’ve been knocked out of the Big East Tournament early just about every year in his tenure.
Then there’s the recruiting. It’s not horrible, but it’s not great either. I like Atkins, but the talent we're bringing in is no better than the talent we already have. NIT/NCAA bubble type talent.
Maybe the money is tighter with the hoops program than it is with the football program. Maybe Brey went to the administration and asked for $500,000 to go out and hire a top notch assistant coach. Maybe that request got rejected. Maybe Brey’s recruiting budget is relatively small. Maybe Brey has found some talented prospects who were interested in ND, but the admissions people wouldn’t approve them for scholarship offers. I don’t discount that some of the problems with the basketball program go higher than the head coaching office. As we have seen with the football program, the ND administration can’t seem to get out of its own way at times and may be holding Brey back from taking this program to the next level. If so, that's gotta be fixed.
Still, there has to be some level of accountability, and it usually starts with the head coach. If we miss the tourney this year, Brey has to face the music. It’s Harangody’s senior year, the Big East is down, and we’re setting up a very favorable schedule. If he can’t make the tournament this year, he has to be held responsible for not making the adjustments in his staff to get this team ready for 2009. And if we are in the position where we are looking for a new coach, Swarbrick has to make an all out effort to get a good coach and make the necessary changes to pump as many resources as possible into the basketball program. If not, we’ll be right back in this position five years from now with the same issues.
I do think this team will bounce back to some degree and make the NCAA Tournament, but I do worry that the basketball program is in a bit of a malaise under Coach Brey. I am certainly not as optimistic about the future of the program as I was going into the 2008-09 season.